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Dealing with Transmission Problems


Imagine that you go out one morning, start your car, drop it into gear, and ... noth­ing. The engine speed doesn't drop off, but there's no movement at all. 

Don’t immediately assume that you need a new transmission. There are a few simple checks available, and symptoms you can evaluate to see if your transmission is dead, or if you may be able get away with a simple service. We'll split them up into manual vs. automatic transmission. 

Scenario: You put it in gear, and the car won't move in any range, forward or backward. 

Automatic: Check the fluid level. It could be that low. If the fluid level is OK and it still won't move in any range, you're probably looking at major transmission repairs. However, there's always a possibil­ity that the linkage has become disconnected. 

Manual: Does the clutch pedal have any freeplay? If not, it may just be an adjustment problem. However, there's a good chance you're due for a new clutch.


Scenario: The vehicle moves fine in reverse, but not forward. 

Automatic: Try putting the shifter in manual low. If it moves for­ward now, you probably have a bad one-way clutch in the transmis­sion. That means the transmission has to come apart — that's the bad news. The good news is you may be able to drive the car to the shop by shifting it manually, from manual low, to second and then into drive or overdrive. That's because the one-way clutch usually only affects transmission operation in first gear, and only when the shifter is in drive. Once you get past first, the rest of the transmission will work OK. 

Manual; Try putting the transmission in third gear. In most trans­missions, third gear is direct drive, so it bypasses a lot of the gearing. If the transmission moves in third, you'll probably need to have it rebuilt, but you'll be able to drive it to the shop in third instead of having to wait for a tow.


Scenario: The transmission slips severely. If it's an automatic, it may make a whining or whirring noise. 

Automatic: You may have a clogged transmission filter. Servicing the transmission may take care of the problem, as long as you do it right away. 

Manual: If the clutch doesn't have any freeplay, an adjustment may help. If it does have freeplay, plan on a new clutch.


Scenario: The car drives fine and then slowly loses the ability to move forward, but if you shut the key off and wait for 5 minutes, the car seems to work fine again for a little while. 

Automatic only; This is a classic dogged-filter scenario. Servicing the transmission may be all that's necessary, assuming it isn't clogged with debris from the transmission falling apart. 

We know it's not fun when something goes wrong with your transmission, and having repairs done can be a costly nerve-wracking experience.  However, as we’ve mentioned above, transmission problems does not always mean you need to buy a new transmission.  Review the scenarios above – they could save you money and reduce your anxieties.


Also see

Your Car's Mechanical Condition

Maintaining the Suspension and Steering -relatively dependable and trouble-free; however, there are a few things you should do to keep both in good working order.

No Monkey Business Allowed Here!- Steps for Choosing a Mechanic  -some must-know questions to ask before choosing a mechanic.

Putting the Stop to Your Brakes -is your car exhibiting any of this potential warning signs?  Find out more.

Oil Change Every 3000 Miles - Good Advice or Just a Sales Pitch? -do you really need to change your oil every 3000 miles?  The answer may surprise you.


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